Back in the UK

Having taken a month off from everything we are now living in the UK and have started back at work. So how is the transition so far? At the moment it still feels like we are back on our annual holiday, but as the weeks turn in to months I know the reality that we have left Uganda will sink in. Starting back at work this week has moved me a little closer to that realisation but as I am working from home and I have done that during my holidays before, it still isn’t real yet.

Six and a half years of life is a long time. I remember the feelings of sadness when my university degree came to an end. Saying goodbye to the friends I had shared life with for three years was hard enough but leaving Uganda was without a doubt the hardest thing we have done. We know God has called us back to the UK and we know this is his perfect plan for us now but it doesn’t stop the emotional tug now that our ties are stretched over thousands of miles to the people we have literally done life with for the past six and a half years. At the moment our point of reference is Uganda, our stories are Uganda, if we see something funny we want to share it with the people in Uganda that would understand the joke.

But we are looking forward to reestablishing a sense of belonging here. We have wonderful friends and family where our ties go back to way before Uganda and they are still strong now – they just need a little updating.

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Leaving the “Pearl” behind

Nearly seven years is a long time! It may only be one year for a dog or a cat, but for Jodi and I it’s a good portion of our lives and the majority of our married life so far…

The Pearl of Africa is what an explorer and a politician nick-named Uganda many moons ago. I don’t know much about pearls (if I did then i’m sure many of my friends would make fun of me!), but I do know that they are rare, precious and valuable. It is no surprise therefore that men much more accomplished than myself saw it fit to name Uganda in this way.

Jodi and I have spent the last seven years of our lives in Uganda, working with an amazing group of people in a heart-stoppingly beautiful country. Leaving is not easy. I’m not sure I have invested as much in any other area of my working life as I have done here in Uganda. We’ve faced incredible challenges and been granted unbelievable opportunities, and the team of staff, colleagues and friends we have surrounded ourselves with has kept us afloat.

At the moment I can’t imagine what our lives will look like without this group of people and without the work we have poured ourselves into for the last seven years, but I know that God has a plan and that He has led us to move on and back to the UK. I also know that He is always faithful, always good and always in control. These things give me comfort as we enter into this transition period.

For those we leave behind, my heart is aching already. I’m going to miss the smiles, the jokes, the shared experiences, the rejoicing together and the grieving as one… I’m going to miss trying to match-make all the eligible bachelors in our office with their female counterparts, i’m going to miss visiting field sites and seeing lives transformed by the love of our staff, i’m going to miss seeing my team grow in stature and confidence as they realize just how special they are.

Jodi makes fun of me for popping up on this blog once a year (if i’m lucky) and writing a post that gets more comments than all of hers. Well, consider this a culmination of the past years’ musings and pontifications! If it were not for Jodi then this blog wouldn’t exist and we wouldn’t have been here in Uganda, and we wouldn’t be able to write anything of much interest… So thank you Jodi for allowing me to ride on the tip of your coat-tails this one last time!

We’re incredibly excited about coming home, about starting our new roles in the UK with the organization that we love so much and have served with here in Uganda, about rekindling our relationships with friends and family, and about living in a way that glorifies our God having seen what we’ve seen. But we’re also sad… Sad to leave behind the people we love so much, the people that have shared our home, the people that have taken the little we had to offer and built it into something great, the people that have welcomed us with open arms and loving hearts… These are the people that we will never be able to forget, and these are the people that we will continue to love from afar and pray for in spirit.

The only fitting way to end this post is to say a big thank you to Samaritan’s Purse for giving us the opportunity of serving God in Uganda, another thank you to our families and friends for allowing us to leave them for so long, and a final thank you to our Uganda team for being so outstandingly amazing in absolutely everything! We love you and you’ll always remain in our hearts – and for those eligible singles still remaining, we’re not finished yet…!!!

A place to call home

I have been thinking a lot recently about where I call home. While living in Uganda I have referred to both the UK and Uganda as home. When we are planning a trip to the UK we talk to our staff about going home for a few weeks. Then when we are in the UK and coming to the end of our holiday we talk to our family about when we go back home – referring to Uganda. We have been privileged to call two places home. In less than a week we will be leaving our Uganda home and heading back to our original home in the UK. Along with this transition come many emotions. However the concept of home was put in to perspective last week when I visited our refugee feeding project in Western Uganda.

Arriving by lorry

We have recently taken over a project that is providing food to refugees in six refugee settlements in Western Uganda. The refugees are from DRC, Eritrea, Somalia and other countries in Africa. Last week the project was asked to expand to also cover a rapidly growing refugee settlement near our field office in Kamwenge, that is receiving refugees from DRC.When we arrived at the food distribution point within the settlement a huge lorry was offloading people and belongings. It had just arrived from the reception centre and was dropping off newly arriving refugees so they can receive a plot of land to set up a temporary home on and then potentially a more permanent structure. That day 1,5000 new refugees arrived and they are expecting at least 3,000 each week. Soon the settlement will be hosting nearly 30,000 people.

Everything he owns

Seeing these individuals and families arriving carrying everything they were able to flee with was indescribable. I cannot imagine feeling so in danger that I pack what I can carry and flee my home. Just planning to leave Uganda we have accumulated so much stuff that I want to keep so we are packing bag after bag. If I have to carry it on my back I would be prioritising very differently.

It was amazing to see the exhausted, bewildered, desperate people receiving a hot meal and then being given a basic hygiene and household supply kit and a monthly ration of food. After the journey they had been on that was the least we could do to help them start their new life. These people really have nothing. They are in a new country where they don’t speak the language but it is better than the alternative. I felt privileged to be connected to a project that is among the first people to welcome these refugees to their new home.

By Chris & Jodi Posted in Work

Not your typical weekend in Addis

Last weekend we took a trip to Ethiopia. Included in the “we” was me, Chris and Tred. The reason we made the two day trip to Ethiopia was that Tred’s housemate Woube was getting married. Woube took over from me in the Uganda office overseeing the Health projects. I have known him for almost five years having first met him in 2007 when he worked for our Ethiopian office.

The happy couple

We were told by a number of people not to arrive on time for the wedding. Even though I have lived in Africa for almost six and a half years I still have a hard time arriving late for anything. I am too paranoid that I will miss something. Reluctantly I agreed to leave for the wedding at 3pm even though the invitation stated that it started at 2.30pm. We arrived at the church only to find no one there. We discovered that there are two churches with the same name so we headed to the other one. Yet again when we arrived there was no one there. We then discovered that the wedding was actually at a different church than stated in the invitation. So we headed to the third church. We were not entirely sure where this church was so after a few phone calls to guests aleady there we finially arrived at 4.30pm. My heart was pounding as I didn’t want to fly all the way to Ethiopia and then miss Woube getting married. I shouldn’t have worried. There was still another 20 minutes before they stood up to take their vows.

The kiss

After the vows our friend Aaron, who lives in Ethiopia and is married to an Ethiopian, turned to us and said, “Now they will shake hands”. Apparently in Ethiopia the pastor does not say, “you may now kiss the bride” as that would be very controversial. However no sooner had Aaron said that, Woube literally grabbed his now wife and kissed her, to much shock and then many cheers and clapping. (During the reception one of Woube’s friends told us that Woube would probably be fired from the church now!).

Doves

The reception was quite a cultural experience. It was fun to see how Ethiopian’s do wedding receptions. The most unique part was the cutting of the cake which they did standing on a platform with confetti falling all over them and two doves on their heads. It was definitely fun to watch.On Sunday we wanted to get out and experience a bit of Addis and Ethiopia as it was Chris and Tred’s first trip to Ethiopia. We have a fantastic day that included, mountain biking at 9,000ft, Tred riding a donkey and being invited in to a local home and having local coffee prepared for us. It was definitely different from a normal tourist’s day in Addis.

9,000ft

Tred on the donkey

Pounding Coffee

Reintegration

Recently I had an interesting conversation with Charity, our vulnerable children Programme Manager. Uganda is currently pushing the Alternative Care Framework for orphaned children. In order of priority/preference they state that the best place for orphans to be raised is:

  1. With their extended family
  2. Fostered/Adopted in a similar community in their own country
  3. Adopted internationally
  4. In an institution

I think that all of us would probably agree with this list. We know that children need to be raised in a loving family environment so the list makes sense to us. But it is raising quite a stir here. With over 7 million vulnerable children in Uganda there are literally thousands of organisations that have started to care for these children. Many are well meaning and are working hard to provide the best they can for the children (see previous post). But like any “industry” there are bad apples.

A recent study conducted by UNICEF identified that a staggeringly high percentage of children in institutional care actually have a living parent (4 out 5 in some cases). This is definitely true in Uganda. Many well meaning pastors and other volunteers opened homes for children and they soon provided better care than was possible for many rural or urban poor families and many parents saw it as a development opportunity for their children so gave them up to the home.

Now the Government is pushing institutions to trace the families of the children in their care. Those with living parents need to be reunited where possible and those with extended families need to be reintegrated. This is ruffling feathers. Directors of these institutions are resisting this as they say they will lose their funding from the West. If they don’t have as many children in their homes they won’t receive as much money. How sad that it really has become an industry. The children have become pawns in this game.

The saddest story I heard was that the children in one of the most prominent “orphan” villages here want to sue the charity because when they were taken in they were promised a home for life. Many of them have parents that they will need to be returned to and reintegrated back in to their communities. But they have come to expect a higher standard of living and are now suing.

Sometimes orphan homes really are the only answer. Like the story I shared in my last post. The children in this home have no parents, many having died from HIV, others are HIV positive themselves and have been rejected by their families. They really have nowhere else to go and no one else to love them. This is when the church needs to step up, and has done, to fill that gap. Charity is working with people like Pastor Grace, to see if any of these children have extended families that they could be integrated with. She will then provide counselling, reintegration supplies and make sure that the family has a livelihood that can provide for them. It is not easy and it takes time but Charity, like the Government of Uganda, is passionate about children being in a loving family and is working tireless even though she is facing so much resistance. Please pray that the partners she works with would not only see this as a Government priority but as the right thing to do and help donors in the UK and other countries to see that funding organisations to help put children in families is really the best way to go.

By Chris & Jodi Posted in Africa

Official Opening

This week I was invited to officially open the two houses that our church, EFCC, have raised money to build for a children’s home in Uganda. I have previously written about this project. So I thought I would just post the updated photos from the grand opening.

Cutting the ribbon

Opening the Boy's House

Decorating the girls house

 

A suitably male design for the boys house

 

By Chris & Jodi Posted in Africa

Final stop – DRC

My world tour came to an end last week when I completed the final training. This project has seen me visit thirteen countries over the past eight months. It has been an awesome privilege but I am glad that this phase is now over.

The final country team on my list to be trained was Congo (DRC). They have a number of new projects that have just started so we delayed the training till now so that it could benefit the new staff as well. I didn’t really know what to expect travelling to DRC. Chris had been back in 2007 when we sent an emergency response team to respond to the crisis in Goma. Now the staff are based in Bunia (further north) and more remote location. Two of our Uganda staff travelled there last month to help conduct a survey and their stories just increased by intrigue. When I arrived I soon had to get used to the sound of French – well a mix of French and Swahili and it doesn’t sound like the French I learned in school or the Swahili you hear in East Africa. They told me a saying they have that Swahili was born in Tanzania, grew up in Kenya, died in Uganda and was buried in Congo.

DRC in a fascinating place. It is known for so many things and sadly not many of them are good. When I was studying on my Masters course (Control of Infectious Diseases), Congo was often mentioned as the breeding ground for new diseases. The humidity, dense forest and heat apparently become like a Petri dish for organisms to mutate and develop new strains. Not really what a country wants to be known for. From a development perspective it is also famous for the wrong reasons. In almost all development indicators DRC falls at the bottom of the list. Last year it was classed as one of the worst five countries in which to be a women. It has the highest rates of rape in the world, the worst maternal and child mortality. The country is huge and very insecure. There are rebel groups that are permanently based in the communities and live side-by-side with the villagers. The area our staff are working is doesn’t receive so much international or donor attention as there are only three rebel groups rather than the much higher numbers in other parts of the country. The Kony 2012 campaign has got a lot of publicity recently. I won’t make a comment about their campaign but I will say the LRA is definitely still active and they are causing devastation in DRC.

It is in this environment that our team is working. They are out there in harsh conditions, in insecure environments, trying to meet the needs of the people who really are suffering. I am proud of what they are doing and it was a pleasure to be with them for the week and play my small part in helping them grow as an office.

DRC Team - I saved the best for last!

Sun setting over Bunia

Congo landscape

Selling our flat

We are looking to sell our flat in Waltham Abbey. It is a lovely two bedroom flat that we really enjoyed living in. We have fun memories of hosting the 18-30’s home goup, surprise birthday parties and many family meals. If you know anyone who would be interested please point them in the direction of the link below. We are hoping for a quick sale and we have no onward chain. The flat is on the second floor and has a huge loft. Click the link to see the advert online: Flat advert

Trading death for life or chocolate eggs?

Driving back from Northern Uganda last Friday we drove past a number of sombre Good Friday processions. There were groups of people walking in the road carrying huge wooden crosses. It reminded me of the time when Chris and I were in Tenerife and we a passion play was being enacted in the street outside our hotel. Both these occasions were full of passion, sorrow and contemplation. People were actively remembering what Jesus did 2000 years ago.

About the most insightful thing I have heard recently about Easter was while watching An Idiot Abroad (I probably shouldn’t admit to watching that but the title was intriguing as someone who lives “abroad”). During one episode Karl visits a passion play. The people were really getting in to it, sobbing and beating Jesus. Jesus then got strapped to the cross and the cross was hoisted up. Karl reflects on the fact that this doesn’t seem much like the Easters he remembers at home. His typical Easter consists of watching James Bond films and eating chocolate eggs. As he seesJesushanging on the cross he wonders what chocolate eggs have to do with Jesus’ death. He imagines how devastatedJesuswould have been if his disciples had told him the way they would remember his suffering each year would be to eat chocolate eggs! Someone with no professed relationship with Christ seemed to have grasped the idea that Easter is about more than chocolate eggs.

Over the Easter weekend I spent time reflecting and thanking Jesus for what he has done for me and the freedom and life I have because of his death and resurrection. And there wasn’t a chocolate egg in sight – but mainly because we couldn’t wait till Easter so we had eaten them the week before!

 

By Chris & Jodi Posted in Work

16 women will die in Uganda today in childbirth

16 women die during childbirth every day in Uganda. That is unacceptable by anyone’s standards. Compared to the Millennium Development Goal the horror is especially evident. The MDG for maternal mortality rates is 131 deaths per 100,000 live births. The Uganda rate stands at 435. If you look at Karamoja the rate is shockingly bad. The most recent data shows 750 deaths per 100,000 live births. This is almost 6 times higher than the MDG target which is supposed to be reached by 2015. Amidst this miserable outlook there is hope.

We are starting a large-scale maternal and child health project in Karamoja aiming to combat this situation and reverse the trends in mortality and morbidity rates. The project will look to train 2,000 community women to be able to educate 40,000 women on safe pregnancy, delivery and post-natal care. It will also train care givers how to improve the nutritional status of their children and prevent from getting diseases. The messages are simple but the impact should be life saving. I am so excited about this project and can’t wait to tell the stories of the lives saved.